Effectiveness Of Medication To Treat Alcoholism Called Into Question

By Beth Leipholtz 03/06/18

A new study examined whether baclofen improved drinking outcomes in comparison to a placebo.

man drinking from a glass of alcohol

A drug previously thought to be a potential treatment for alcohol use disorders has proved not to be as effective as hoped, according to a recent study

The medication, baclofen, has been used since the 1970s as an anti-spasticity treatment. However, in recent years it has been utilized as a treatment for alcohol use disorders. Because baclofen is excreted largely through the kidneys, it can be used by people who have liver disease related to alcohol use and who can’t often tolerate other medications, according to The Journal.  

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Liverpool and published in the Addiction Journal, examined whether baclofen improved drinking outcomes in comparison to a placebo.

According to Healio Psychiatry, researchers “conducted a meta-analysis of 12 randomized controlled trials that provided data on heavy drinking days, abstinence days and/or abstinence rates, or craving, anxiety and/or depression.”

“Although why baclofen may have a therapeutic effect is unclear, research has highlighted a reduction in craving and negative mood (particularly anxiety and depression) as potential psychological mechanisms of action,” Abigail K. Rose of the University of Liverpool told Healio. “Therefore, our analysis looked at several key drinking outcomes, as well as craving and negative mood.”

The results demonstrated that baclofen was associated with higher rates of abstinence in comparison to the placebo, but that treatment of alcohol use disorders with baclofen did not show “superior effect on increasing abstinence days or decreasing heavy drinking days, cravings, anxiety or depression.”

“The outcome of the analysis was that baclofen is largely ineffective; compared with placebo, baclofen had no effect on any of the outcomes except abstinence rates at the end of treatment,” Rose told Healio.

According to The Journal, the study found that on average, eight people would need to be treated with the medication in order for one person to remain abstinent due to the medication. However, the study had some limiting factors. 

“Our research highlights several issues with the existing body of trials,” said Rose. “Many of the studies only recruited a limited number of patients, so maybe too small to find an effect.”

According to Rose, researchers aren’t writing the medication off just yet, as further research is needed. 

“It is possible that baclofen may still prove effective in particular drinking populations (e.g., those with alcohol-related liver disease who often can’t tolerate other pharmacotherapies),” she told Healio. “However, its increasing use in some countries, especially at higher doses, seems premature.”

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at www.lifetobecontinued.com, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.